jueves, 7 de febrero de 2019

Poema de Fernán González

Poema de Fernán González (Editorial Castalia, 1993)
Castilla, c. 1250

En el nombre del Padre, autor de toda cosa,
y en el del que nació de la Virgen preciosa,
y en el del Santo Espíritu, que a la par de ellos posa,
del Conde de Castilla quiero hacer una prosa.
(Poema de Fernán González 1)

Un poema épico, compuesto hacia 1250 con rimas "a sílabas contadas" en el estilo del llamado Mester de Clerecía, sobre las hazañas de Fernán González, un conde de Castilla de carne y hueso del siglo X.  A pesar de versar con una u otra escenas sobrenaturales en la tradición de los romances populares, el poeta parece adentrarse más en el mundo histórico y menos en el mundo imaginativo como se puede ver en el principio sobre los orígenes de Castilla en el que hay varias estrofas dedicadas a la llegada de los godos en España y a su eventual conversión al cristianismo.  Esta tensión entre el contenido histórico y el épico se observa a lo largo del poema y es uno de sus rasgos esenciales.  A diferencia de la Chanson de Roland francesca, por ejemplo, el Poema de Fernán González habla de dos derrotas de Carlomagno en España a las manos de los españoles (véanse estrofas 134 y 144) al mismo tiempo que Carlomagno y Roldán y Olivero figuran entre una lista de celebres guerreros históricos y legendarios que también incluye Alejandro, Baldovinos, y "el rey David que mató a Golías" (357-358).  Este vaivén entre el realismo y lo legendario también se nota en las descripciones aplicadas a cristianos y moros donde hay una mezcla de generalidades y especificidad en cuanto a los musulmanes.  El conde del poema, como un líder de "los cruzados" (79) y "esa gente cruzada" (470) es por supuesto retratado propagandisticamente como un "vasallo" del "alto Criador": "tú eres su vasallo y él es tu Señor" (412).  Los enemigos, por su parte, son llamados "los pueblos paganos" (142), "los pueblos renegados" (205) y, más específicamente en cuanto al registro histórico, "los almohades y los benemerinos" (390) y "las huestes africanas" (566) durante la lucha entre los castellanos y las fuerzas de Almanzor.  Si el Poema de Fernán González no tiene la vitalidad de o el Cantar de Mio Cid o la Chanson de Roland, ya tiene sus momentos; me gustaron la imagen de la toma de España  evocada por los versos "España la gentil fue luego destruída; era señora de ella la gente descreída" (89) y el colorido del poeta al describir los moros de Almanzor como  "mas feos que Satán con todo su convento/al salir del infierno sucio y carboniento" (391).  La rima de éste compensa el prejuicio de la época tal vez.

El único manuscrito del Poema de Fernán González

domingo, 27 de enero de 2019

Riders of the Purple Sage

Riders of the Purple Sage (Barnes & Noble, 2004)
by Zane Grey
USA, 1912

Super famous but thoroughly hack western which, despite being intermittently entertaining in spite of itself, might be most "memorable" for the virulence of its anti-Mormon themes and for the fact that Indians are mentioned a million times in the course of the novel without ever once making a non-figurative appearance within its pages.  Weird!  Given that Riders is set in southern Utah in the 1870s, the narrative's obsession with Native Americans but only with Native Americans who are always offscreen struck me as much more mystifying than either the hackery or the religious intolerance.  I mean, even if some of the native "presence" conjured up by and apparently significant to Grey--the references to kivas and the vanished cliff-dwellers of bygone times, for example--is clearly attributable to the demands of landscape and plot, what are we to make of the profusion of "good" ("Little Fay there--she sees things as they appear on the face.  An Indian does that.  So does a dog.  An' an Indian an' a dog are most of the time right in what they see.  Mebbe a child is always right") (228), bad ("Then it was that Venters' primitive, childlike mood, like a savage's, seeing yet unthinking, gave way to the encroachment of civilized thought") (153) and indifferent ("My father got his best strain [of horses] in Nevada from Indians who claimed their horses were bred down from the original stock left by the Spaniards") (28) allusions to Indians when Indian characters are otherwise entirely whitewashed from the text (that last allusion being the closest thing to a possible exception)?  Was this a genre thing--giving readers what somebody thought they wanted, cowboys and Indians in absentia if you would?  Whatever, kind of a strange choice to wind up as "the most popular western novel of all time" although granted Grey's dual love stories, creaky, pulp plot shenanigans about masked riders and hidden valleys, and awkwardly earnest prose ("He saw destiny in the dark, straight path of her wonderful eyes" [117]) naturally just might strike a more Proustian chord with you than they did with me.  Then again, maybe not!

Zane and Dolly Grey, c. 1906

domingo, 2 de septiembre de 2018

Spanish and Portuguese Lit Months 2018: 8/26-8/31 Links

With Spanish and Portuguese Lit Months 2018 now over, I'd like to thank everybody who helped make it happen this year and to thank Stu for letting me co-host it with him again.  I had a lot of fun and hope you all found something of interest--a new blog, a great book, whatever--along the way as well.  Anyway, here's the last week's worth of links generated by the event.  On a related note, I'll be running a month-long version of the Argentinean Literature of Doom in December this year if anybody cares to join me for some end of the year gnashing of teeth.  Stay tuned for further details eventually and/or check out last year's welcome post here if you have no idea what I'm talking about.  Cheers.

Agnese, Beyond the Epilogue
The Iliac Crest by Cristina Rivera Garza

David Hebblethwaite, David's Book World
Fish Soup by Margarita García Robayo

Joseph Screiber, roughghosts

Juliana Brina, the [blank] garden
Hilda Hilst (profile and bibliography)
Because there is desire within me, everything glimmers (poems by Hilda Hilst)

lizzysiddal, Lizzy's Literary Life
#edbookfest 2018: Teresa Solana

Paul, By the Firelight
Largo noviembre de Madrid (Madrid's Long November) by Juan Edwardo Zúñiga

Richard, Caravana de recuerdos
"Mimoso" by Silvina Ocampo

Scott, seraillon

viernes, 31 de agosto de 2018


by Silvina Ocampo
Argentina, 1959

Alfajores Havanna or Cachafaz?*  Whatever, it's now time for the dessert & coffee portion of Spanish and Portuguese Lit Months 2018 at long last!  "Mimoso" ["Affectionate"], a four page-long morsel from "Silvina is a Borges" Ocampo's 1959 La furia which brings unwanted attention to that previously innocent term "animal lover," is the giddily effed-up taste treat in question--a morally dubious tale about a woman who so loves her dog Mimoso that she decides to embalm him after his passing only to eventually arouse the suspicions of her neighbors.  Ocampo's peculiar sense of humor is clearly the dulce de leche filling of our alfajor argentino with the cookie-like descriptions of 1) the pet owner Mercedes--"Con su tejido en la mano esperaba como Penélope, tejiendo, la llegada del perro embalsado" ["With her fabric in hand, she awaited the arrival of the embalmed dog like Penelope, weaving away"]; 2) the now glass-eyed Mimoso himself--"Nunca había parecido de mejor salud...lo único que le faltaba era hablar" ["He had never seemed in better health...the only thing that was lacking was that he couldn't talk"]; 3) and in particular Mercedes' reaction to the new and improved, "bien peinado y lustroso" ["well-groomed and shiny"] post-embalming Mimoso--"Ese perro muerto la acompañaría como la había acompañado el mismo perro vivo, la defendería de los ladrones y de la soledad.  Le acarició la cabeza con la punta de los dedos y cuando creyó que el marido no la miraba, le dio un beso furtivo" ["That dead dog would accompany her just as the same dog had done in life, he'd defend her from thieves and loneliness.  She stroked his head with the tips of her fingers, and when she thought her husband wasn't looking, she gave Mimoso a furtive kiss"]--all leading to uncomfortable laughter.  To help wash this all down, I will avoid all mention of the gross-out ending and will instead propose a lágrima** for all #Spanishandportugueselitmonths readers who are so inclined in honor of one Jorge Luis Borges' almost tearful response to this story: "Borges lo odiaba" ["Borges hated it"], Mariana Enriquez writes in her recent must read Ocampo bio, "siempre le pedía a Silvina que no lo incluyera en sus recopilaciones" ["he would always ask Silvina to leave it out of her anthologies"].  Mmm, alfajores.

*The correct answer, of course, is "both!"
**If curious, please see "A Buenos Aires Coffee Guide (with pictures)" for a handy primer.  Nature of primer: thirst-inducing.

"Mimoso" appears on pages 197-200 of Silvina Ocampo's
Cuentos completos I (Buenos Aires: Emecé Editores, 1999).  Author photo: Sara Facio.

domingo, 26 de agosto de 2018

Spanish and Portuguese Lit Months 2018: 8/19-8/25 Links

Juan Carlos Onetti

Grant, 1streading's Blog
Older Brother by Daniel Mella

Juliana, the [blank] graden
Ana Cristina César (profile and bibliography)
To confront desire (poems by Ana Cristina César)
Victor Heringer (profile and bibliography)
The first tear opened up that day (on O amor dos homens avulsos by Victor Heringer)
Ricardo Domeneck (profile and bibliography)
May it sting me until it extinguishes me (poems by Ricardo Domeneck)

Richard, Caravana de recuerdos
"Felisberto, el 'Naïf'" by Juan Carlos Onetti

Rise, in lieu of a field guide
"The Superstitious Ethics of the Reader" by Jorge Luis Borges

viernes, 24 de agosto de 2018

Felisberto, el "naïf"

"Felisberto, el 'naïf'"
by Juan Carlos Onetti
Spain, 1975

Onetti's book talk--I hesitate to call it criticism--almost always strikes me as hurried but loaded with insight with the caveat that "loaded with insight" sometimes means accompanied by the perfect anecdote.  Here's a good example of one such piece I've been wanting to share for a while. "Felisberto Hernández fue uno de los más importantes escritores de su país" ["Felisberto Hernández was one of the most important writers in his country"], he begins.  "Muy poco conocido en España --según estoy comprobando--.  Esto no debe preocupar, cuanto la ignorancia de su obra es también comprobable en el Uruguay" ["Hardly known in Spain--as I'm finding out.  This needn't concern us insofar as the ignorance of his work is also ascertainable in Uruguay"].  After this set-up, Onetti suggests that "factores políticos" ["political factors"] might have had something to do with his fellow Uruguayan's lack of celebrity because "Felisberto --siempre se le llamó así-- era conservador, hombre de extrema derecha" ["Felisberto--as he was always called--was a conservative, a man of the far right"] taken to arguing out loud about politics in gatherings during World War II and its aftermath. Although Onetti is quick to make clear that it's Felisberto the writer rather than "Felisberto político" ["political Felisberto"] who interests us here, he adds that an anecdote or two which will help us to understand Felisberto better or to reassess him are on the other hand fair game.  Unsurprisingly, this is where things start to get good.  Onetti reveals that he first met Felisberto early on at a time when his countryman was so lacking in confidence about the "pequeños libros" ["little books"] that he'd published that he told Onetti he couldn't even think up new themes to pursue.  "En aquellos tiempos" ["In those days"], Onetti explains, "Felisberto se ganaba la vida golpeando pianos en ciudades o pueblos del interior de la república, acompañando a un recitador de poemas.  Es fácil imaginar sus públicos" ["Felisberto earned a living thumping pianos in the cities and small towns of Uruguay's interior, accompanying a reciter of poems.  It's easy to imagine their audiences"].  Given the musical subject matter of so much of Felisberto's output, Onetti then makes the rather startling claim that he suggested that Felisberto's piano tours through Uruguay's backwaters might make a good source of material, something which the piano man thanked him for but seemed undecided about, as if he weren't sure that Onetti wasn't putting him on or blowing him off.  Fast forwarding a bit, Onetti then recalls his first encounter with Felisberto the writer when, due to a friendship with one of the author's family members, he was able to get his hands on one of Felisberto's hard to find earliest books, 1931's La envenenada: "Digo libro generosamente: había sido impreso en alguno de los agujeros donde Felisberto pulsaba pianos que ya venían desafinados desde su origen.  El papel era el que se usa para la venta de fideos; la impresión, tipográfica, estaba lista para ganar cualquier curso de fe de erratas; el cosido había sido hecho con recortes de alambrado.  Pero el libro, apenas un cuento, me deslumbró" ["I say book generously: it had been printed in one of the holes where Felisberto played pianos that were permanently out of tune.  The paper was the kind that was used to sell pasta in; the printing was fit to win a typo contest; the binding had been stitched with pieces of wire.  But the book, barely a short story, amazed me"].  Why?  "Porque el autor no se parecía a nadie que yo conociera... Y era díficil --e inútil-- encontrar allí lo que llamamos literatura, estilo o técnica" ["Because the author didn't seem like anyone else I knew... And it was difficult--and useless--to find what we'd call literature, style or technique there"].  In much of what follows, Onetti traces his subject's later trajectory in pursuit of the idea that "Felisberto, sabiéndolo o no, perseguía el malentendido llamado fama" ["Felisberto, knowingly or not, was pursuing the misunderstanding called fame"].  Contrasting the quality of 1942's Por los tiempos de Clemente Calling [Around the Time of Clemente Calling] with 1960's La casa inundada [The Flooded House], Onetti casts the latter as a stylistically inferior example of the author's deliberate attempt to "conservar la pureza, la sinceridad de sus primeros libros" ["preserve the purity, the sincerity of his first books"] given the so-called "naïfismo" ["naiveté-ism"] for which he'd become known among a small but vocal circle of friends and admirers.  Onetti ends his appreciation with an unhurried and unexpectedy corrosive critical double whammy first saying that his personal admiration for Felisberto's work on balance still remains strong "pese a los avatares mencionados" ["in spite of the ups and downs mentioned"] and then attributing a couple of mischievous references to Felisberto's late life morbid obesity and string of broken marriages as a "homenaje al malhumor de Sainte-Beuve, que estropeaba cada lunes el apetito de los Goncourt y sostenía que era imposible hacer buena crítica sin conocer la vida íntima de cada víctima" ["homage to the ill humor of Sainte-Beuve, who ruined the Goncourt brothers' appetites each Monday and maintained that it was impossible to give a good review without knowing the private life of each victim"].  Ouch!

Felisberto Hernández (1902-1964, top) & Juan Carlos Onetti (1909-1994, here pictured in Madrid in 1975 in a photo by Dolly Onetti, bottom)
"Felisberto, el 'naïf'" can be found on pp. 532-535 of Onetti's Obras Completas III.  Cuentos, artículos y miscelánea (Barcelona: Galaxia Gutenberg, 2009).

domingo, 19 de agosto de 2018

Spanish and Portuguese Lit Months 2018: 8/12-8/18 Links

Agnese, Beyond the Epilogue
Comemadre by Roque Larraquy
Kingdom Cons by Yuri Herrera

John, The Modern Novel
Bilbao-New York-Bilbao by Kirmen Uribe
La prueba (The Proof) by César Aira

Juliana Brina, the [blank] garden
Cora Coralina (profile and bibliography)
The mere life of the obscure (poems by Cora Coralina)
Alejandra Pizarnik (profile and bibliography)
Very soon I will send you something, a few birds of fire (on Nueva correspondencia Pizarnik by Alejandra Pizarnik edited by Ivonne Bordelois and Cristina Piña)

Pat, South of Paris Books
The Night of the Singing Ladies by Lídia Jorge

Richard, Caravana de recuerdos
La hermana menor.  Un retrato de Silvina Ocampo by Mariana Enriquez

Rise, in lieu of a field guide
Jaime Gil de Biedma's ambiguous poetry (on Jaime Gil de Biedma in the Phillipines: Prose and Poetry/Jaime Gil de Biedman en Filipinas: prosa y poesía)